by Abby Milloy
Sure, I knew recommendations for prevention and believed in finding a cure, but I was completely naïve about the immense daily needs of cancer patients and their families. When I describe my job as “connecting people to cancer support and resources to help them address daily challenges,” it is frequently met with glazed eyes, polite smiles, and hesitant nods. I get it—pre-LIVESTRONG me didn’t know anything about the day-to-day of cancer fighters either.
I didn’t know that cancer could jeopardize a return to normal life post-treatment, especially if a patient’s life plan includes having children. In fact, I didn’t even know that cancer and treatment could impact fertility or that many patients have less than two weeks before their dreams of parenthood could be stripped from them forever. With the help of our LIVESTRONG Fertility program, patients don’t have to let cancer or the prohibitive cost of fertility preservation dictate whether they realize their life goals of becoming a parent. And it takes only 1-2 business days to get approved for the support.
I didn’t know that patients still have to pay their mortgages, rent, and other bills on top of their medical expenses (which average about $68,000). This is the one aspect of my cancer ignorance that I am most ashamed to admit. It seems like common sense—living costs money and unfortunately these expenses do not end just because you happen to be fighting to keep your life. Fortunately, we have a dedicated team at the Patient Advocated Foundation to help patients and loved ones find financial assistance for medical/living costs and help manage medical debt.
I didn’t know that doctors could be wrong. It took one client, given a 75% chance of brain cancer, and an impending radical craniotomy to change my perspective on this forever. With some help and encouragement from our nurse practitioner partners at NavigateCancer Foundation, the client relentlessly sought multiple opinions. The final diagnosis ended up being the medical equivalent of a bad headache.
I didn’t know that emotional distress during cancer can cause families to crumble. When you add emotions like fear or anger to the stress of any of the practical challenges I outlined above, you can begin to understand the courage it takes to face cancer every day. Yet, I am continually amazed by the transformation of clients who seek emotional support with our counselors. I have seen caregivers go from “I can’t possibly go on like this” to “I can do this” after a few counseling sessions.
So what do I tell people about my job now? Life is hard and cancer makes it harder. While the cancer community works tirelessly to find a cure to prevent the devastation and suffering caused by cancer, people currently fighting the disease are suffering every day. My role at the LIVESTRONG Foundation means there is something I can do to be the cure for someone’s cancer struggles today.